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Budget leaks: Social welfare to bear burden of cuts, Government tells EU

Leaked draft documents seen by TheJournal.ie indicate that the social protection budget will be heavily targeted.

Image: Photocall Ireland

THE GOVERNMENT WILL heavily target social welfare to achieve savings in the upcoming Budget, it has told European officials.

In confidential draft documents circulated to all 27 EU finance ministers and seen by TheJournal.ie, the Government signals that the Department of Social Protection will constitute a significant part of the €2.2billion in spending cuts in next month’s Budget.

In a bullet-point plan of how the Government is to achieve its target €2.2billion in spending cuts, “social expenditure reductions” are the first item. They are followed by the cut in public service numbers announced this week, capital spending cuts, and unspecified “other programme expenditure”.

The EU documents appear to suggest that the savings will be achieved by welfare fraud elimination, cuts to other entitlements and a reduction in the number of people eligible for benefit payments.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance told TheJournal.ie: “The documents in question are purely draft programme assistance documents. No decisions have been made in relation to the forthcoming Budget.”

The documents are titled: “Ireland: Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies” and “Ireland: Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality”. Their indication that social protection will contribute a significant quantity of the savings comes despite signals to the contrary given to the Irish public.

Public message

Earlier this month, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton rejected previous reports that her department would contribute €700million of the planned cuts, insisting that social protection cuts had not been discussed in detail at Cabinet.

The Government has repeatedly insisted that there will be no reductions in the headline rates of social welfare benefits. Instead, the documents commit to a “comprehensive package of [welfare] reforms” which will help better “target” social benefits.

They stress that instead of “pursuing across-the-board reductions in primary social welfare rates”, the Government will take a “selective approach” to “reforming entitlements”, and state:

The Department of Social Protection will build on their recent studies on working age payments, child income support and disability allowance with a view to producing, after consultation with stakeholders, a comprehensive programme of reforms that can help better target social support to those on lower incomes, and ensure that work pays for welfare recipients.

An action plan is due to be submitted to EU finance ministers by the end of December.

“Penalty sanctions” for welfare abuses are also flagged, with the Government committing to report quarterly to the EU on their implementation.

Junior minister Fergus O’Dowd has previously suggested that welfare recipients could be penalised if they turn down work.

There is also a specific commitment not to increase the social welfare pension over the term of the bailout programme, which is currently due to run until 2015.

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Michael Freeman

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